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The Moon is the Earth’s large permanent natural satellite. As it moves around the Earth, the relative positions of the Moon, Earth, and Sun make it appear different in the sky. The phases of the Moon are the different ways the Moon looks over a 28 day period.

The Moon is Earth’s most important natural satellite, and every night it appears differently in the night sky. The Moon itself does not produce any light, instead, it reflects light produced by the Sun. As the Moon moves around the Earth, the amount of the Moon we see illuminated changes.This difference in the appearance is caused by the relative positions of the Sun, the Earth, and the Moon.The Moon takes roughly 28 days to make a full orbit of Earth. It is tidally locked to the Earth, which means that one side always faces the Earth and the other side faces away.

The first stage in the cycle is the new Moon. This stage is when the Moon is completely covered in shadow. From this stage, the amount of illuminated Moon which is visible from the Earth increases; this is known as waxing. The waxing crescent stage is a growing crescent of illuminated Moon. The first quarter stage is where half of the illuminated moon is visible from Earth. The waxing gibbous stage is where the amount of illuminated moon visible from Earth increases, and almost looks like a growing football.

When the moon disc is completely illuminated, it is called a full Moon. After the full Moon, the amount of the illuminated disc of the Moon decreases; this is known as waning. The waning gibbous is the stage between the full moon and the third quarter. The third quarter stage is when half of the illuminated Moon is visible from Earth. The amount if the illuminated disc decreases still in a stage known as the waning crescent until none of the disc is illuminated. At this stage, we are back to the new Moon phase, and the cycle repeats.

The different phases of the moon can be used as a calendar for the 28 day period. This calendar, known as a lunar calendar, has been used by many cultures throughout history. Some of the earliest records of lunar calendars are over 10,000 years old. The moon also causes the rise and fall of sea levels, known as tides. This is due to the gravitational pull of the pull on our planet’s bodies of water.

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Phases of the Moon

  • New Moon
  • Waxing Crescent
  • First Quarter
  • Waxing Gibbous
  • Full Moon
  • Waning Gibbous
  • Third Quarter
  • Waning Crescent
Learn more about the stars and other celestial bodies in our Picture Encyclopedia of Astronomy Terms!
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